When Silvia left Watson in our care this weekend she expressed concern about leaving him alone outside with the chickens for an extended period to time.
I came home yesterday to find these little faces waiting outside my back door.
See, nothing to worry about, Silvia - we are one big happy family over here.
This morning Silvia found the first eggs from our baby chickens, which we have had since 6 weeks old. They are now about 6 months old and we were starting to get concerned that they had not started laying yet. Also, our older hens have just about stopped laying for the season, and we have been more or less without eggs for over a month.
Out of excitement, I went out to examine the coop and found one of the nesting boxes surprisingly full of blue-green eggs! We have two sets of laying boxes, and Silvia must have checked the one where the older chickens lay their eggs. While I was looking at the lovely pile of bright blue eggs, Lola came running into the coop and stood territorially over them. Once she left I scooped them all up into my arms (and felt super guilty about it). In the first picture you can see a little white ping pong ball that I put in the box to “inspire” them to start laying. Guess it finally worked!
Hooray for beautiful new eggs at our little backyard farm…now time for a celebratory quiche!
After the squash bugs decimated our pumpkins, zucchini, and cucumbers, they moved on to our watermelons. It has been a sad summer for anything in the squash family.
After trying in vain to fight them off by hand for several weeks we finally gave up. Silvia and I spent nearly an hour every day ruthlessly squishing as many bugs, eggs and creepy spider-looking babies as we could find, and they still seemed to multiply while we weren’t looking.
So now that it appears our watermelons are also doomed and we have given up the hand-to-hand combat, we are attempting one last weapon in the war against the squash bugs: fencing the chickens in with the watermelons and letting them eat as many bugs as they can get. The watermelons are being stomped and pecked to death, but they were going to die anyway. At least this way we are hopefully ridding the world of a few more squash bugs and the little bastards are getting what they deserve.
Free range backyard chickens
Though not yet laying hens, our baby chickens have grown into young adults and are old enough to fend for themselves in the pecking order. Last week I combined the two coops into one large area which allows a lot more room for the chickens, and also makes our lives much easier in several ways. It allows us only 1 set of food and water dishes to fill and clean, and access to a door to throw food scraps and weeds into rather than having to push them through holes in the chicken wire. It also allows me to open the door in the mornings and let the chickens come out at their leisure (whereas before we had to lift Betty and Rosie out of their coop to let them roam in the yard). I have been letting them out most mornings and letting them roam the backyard all day long, scavenge for bugs, eat grass and weeds, take dirt baths and cuddle together in the dirt until they independently return to their coop when night falls each day. I feel like their quality of life has greatly improved since they have become “free range chickens,” rather than cooped-up hens who occasionally get to spend the day in the yard.
Maybe I feel a guilty need to treat them extra special since I killed their brother a couple of weeks ago, but I have greatly enjoyed getting to spend more time with the ladies, holding and feeding them and getting to better know their personalities. The sisters are very loyal to one another and cry out looking for each other if one is being held. One of them now sleeps roosting up high on top of the coop at night which is pretty silly to see. Despite being one-legged Betty runs pretty quickly whenever food is put out and nips at my toes when I don’t bring her anything to eat. Rosie is the pack leader and puts everyone in their place when the sisters get too feisty. I am becoming more enamored with them every day.
Beautiful yellow-yolk fried up delicious eggs, courtesy of Rosie.
It has recently become clear to us that one of our young hens grew up to be, in fact, a rooster. For the past 2 weeks we (and surely our neighbors) have been cursing Hedwig every morning, beginning at sunrise, and every half-hour thereafter. Because roosters don’t make the best backyard pets in the middle of downtown and there aren’t many options for getting rid of them that don’t involve someone killing and eating them, the decision was finally made that that someone might as well be us.
I personally made the decision sometime in the past year that if I was going to be eating animals, then I wanted to be able to be able to raise and kill them myself. I’m not at the point in my life where that’s totally feasible, but this seemed like a good place to start.
And so with the guidance of my new friend Jack (an experienced rooster killer), I successfully killed, skinned, and dressed a chicken. I won’t go into the gory details, but there were prayers and thanks said, as well as crying from both myself and an onlooking-in-solidarity Silvia, as we watched him go to “the big farm in the sky.” I’m proud to say that I held the knife and did it myself. It was a pretty surreal experience and one of the most intense things I have ever done…I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it all. I’ve never been much of a meat eater, and can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve bought actual slabs of meat from the store (as in chicken breasts, pork loins, steaks, etc) and cooked them myself. I’ve hardly cut a piece of grocery store meat, let alone skinned and dressed an entire alive-just-moments-ago bird.
Last night, with the advice of my herbalism teacher Jen, Silvia roasted up our backyard rooster and we had a little feast. Hedwig was Kelli’s chicken, so she opted to skip the meal (and the killing). We used the blood on our tomato plants - apparently it makes a great fertilizer - and we will use the bones for a rooster soup. Silvia had jokingly talked about killing our rooster as a sacrifice to the rain gods, since New Mexico has been in a pretty bad drought all Summer. Amazingly enough the city has been enveloped by intense thunderstorms almost every day since.
So thanks for your life, Hedwig - we are grateful!
This is a set of antique pyrex that I fell soooo in love with at a little shop in Montrose, with its cute little chickens and farmer couple! If only I had $200 to burn on bowls and tupperware…sigh.
Yesterday I checked on the hive one last time before I head out of town. I wanted to check on the girls and see how they were doing, as well as make sure that the queen was, in fact, still alive - she was. (whew!) You can see in this first picture how the drone (male) bees that have hatched are bigger than the regular lady bees. I figured while the drones are around I should practice picking up bees, which you do by grabbing their wings. It’s easier on drones because they don’t have stingers. Silvia refers to this as an abuse of power, but I’m still not quite brave enough to pick up any of the girls!
I also set out to tackle those darn foreign top bars once again. Since I trimmed them down they seem to be sitting in the hive much better than before, and the air gaps are much smaller…but still present. I am concerned about the bees in winter and the temperature stabilization with these non-fitting and non-sturdy top bars in the hive.
So I saw an opportunity today and grabbed it. I had never wanted to take out these bars before since they were full of brood and the hive needed to build it’s numbers. However, with the exception of a few, all of the babies had hatched and the comb was mostly empty (or so I thought). Since the honeycomb on top was over 90% capped (otherwise it would ferment) I decided that I would do my first mini-honey harvest of the year and snatch out the difficult top bar from the hive.
As I was in the process of harvesting the honey (a fun, messy, gooey process), I noticed activity coming from several of the un-hatched cells. The babies were hatching in front of my eyes!!! It was one of the coolest things I have seen, and I just sat there in awe the entire time as they broke through their cell caps and burst forward into the world (come back tomorrow for pictures!). They were all silvery so I think they may have been hatching prematurely due to the stress of the comb removal. Once they hatched I dropped them back off at the hive and hopefully they will survive.
Trying to put everything to good use and not let anything go to waste on our little backyard farm, Betty and Rosie got a delicious afternoon snack of the un-hatched bee larvae.
Yep, this is really my life.